Things you can do to help
The symptoms associated with the menopause can are often confusing. For instance, some of the first symptoms of the perimenopause aren't the 'classic' hot flushes and night sweats - memory problems, forgetfulness and anxiety can all occur, but because they aren't necessarily associated with the menopause, catastrophic thoughts may run wild. Women often worry that they might have early onset dementia or are 'going mad'. These fears can impact a relationship, so if you notice any differences in behaviour, gently discuss these changes.
But... listen, don't give advice
No one likes to be told what to do, especially when they're awash with symptoms. Do your research about the menopause but avoid saying things like, "I just read XXX tried this and I think it would really help with your mood swings". Instead, ask your partner how she is - then listen. Really listen. Don't let your mind wander into Fix-It Mode, just let her talk, give her a hug and lots of reassurance. This will help to limit angry outbursts as she will feel supported and safe in your company.
Put yourself in her shoes
Try to think about a big change in your life that you had no control over. Maybe you were made redundant, can't seem to get back to your previous level of fitness or control the middle-aged spread. Although you can't know exactly how she feels, it's just much easier to be empathic if you can tap into your own experience of change, which often affects our sense of identity. There will be a time of mourning in which a woman lets go of this part of herself. These emotions can be challenging so support is key here - allow her to express these feelings without minimising the menopause as 'just a natural process'.
Be patient, especially when it comes to the bedroom
The loss of libido isn't not the only symptom that may put your partner off sex - vaginal dryness, thinning and inflammation can make intercourse uncomfortable or downright painful. There are treatments for this, but it can take time for a woman to find something that works for her - so be patient. To maintain intimacy in your relationship, try not to perceive her disinterest in sex as a reflection on you - instead keep the kisses, cuddles and eye contact going with no pressure to jump in the sack.
Boost her confidence
A recent survey by Healthspan found that confidence takes a big knock during the menopause and can lead to anxiety, depression, weight gain, feelings of isolation, problems at work and relationships difficulties. To give the woman in your life a confidence boost, remind her how you feel about her, the qualities you admire and suggest doing something fun: a bit of kidulting never goes amiss.
Don't bottle up your own feelings
Finally, do seek out some support yourself if you're finding it hard to cope with the impact of the menopause on your relationship. If you have friends of the same age, chances are they will also be experiencing similar issues. But if you don't feel you can open up to other men, your GP, a counsellor or local support or online group can help you to work through your own feelings, which will give you the headspace to further help your female friend or partner.
For more advice on the stages of menopause, see our Menopause Advice hub which takes you through symptoms, well being, medication and how you can help.
1Harlow, S. D., et al (2012). Executive summary of the Stages of Reproductive Aging Workshop + 10: addressing the unfinished agenda of staging reproductive aging, J Clin Endocrinol Metab 97(4), 1159-1168. doi:10.1210/jc.2011-3362